Does It Feel Like Lego Bricks Just Keep Getting More Expensive?

Lego image CC BY-SA 3.0 Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia Commons

Lego sets aren’t just for kids–and they certainly don’t come at kid prices. I’ve gazed longingly at the “Death Star” and “Imperial Shuttle” kits, the “Mindstorms NXT 2.0,” the adorable “Hogwarts Castle,” and even “The Black Pearl.” But for the combined price of those sets, you could make a mortgage payment.

In fact, every time my husband and I see a Lego display, we comment on how they’re so cool, but so darn expensive. And everyone we knew had piles of them when we were kids–it doesn’t seem like our parents would have bought them at these crazy prices! I decided to compare the inflation-adjusted prices of Lego sets over the years to see how big the difference was.

As it turns out, after going up in the 70’s and 80’s, the average price per brick has actually been trending down. I sampled the prices of sets through the years as listed on brickset.com from across themes and set sizes. To try to make it an apples-to-apples comparison, I excluded minifigs by themselves, accessories, promotional items, games, or anything that required batteries, as well as Mindstorms, Duplo, and non-brick items. Here’s how the data graphs:

lego price/brick graph

One factor that is not accounted for here, which is harder to track, is price/weight. Many people believe (and have observed in their own purchases) that price-by-weight is more consistent than price/brick (i.e., is that a set with 10 2×4 bricks or 10 4×6 bricks?). Prices in any given year are also subject to the changes in oil prices, which may be the biggest factor influencing brick price in the coming years…

I have two theories about the cause of the apparent-but-imagined price increases (feel free to chime in with your ideas in the comments). Initially, I thought that licensing costs for names like Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean were driving the prices up–but the licensed sets don’t seem to be any more expensive per brick than other sets. This lead me to my first theory–that these sets seem more expensive because they contain a lot more bricks than sets did when I was a kid. For example, the $399.99 “Super Star Destroyer” contains 3,152 pieces! In comparison, 1975’s “London Bus” had 110 pieces and sold for $49–after adjusting for inflation, that is an appalling $1.87/brick!

My second theory is that, in my childhood memories, I am actually recalling the products of Lego competitors. We had both Lego and non-Lego brand bricks in our house. (Woe be to the kid who tried to stick the two types together: they never come apart.) One of my favorite sets was the Papa Smurf Loc Blocs set (even if one forum poster I came across calls Loc Blocks, “Legos for kids whose parents hated them.”).

On the up side, the bricks are nearly indestructible (as opposed to your feet, should you step on a stray brick in the dark). This means that the old Lego box languishing in your parents’ garage is just waiting to find a new home in your kid’s room, with 100% of the joy that you had the first time around, for absolutely free.

For tons more Lego brick price data, read more below.

Price data

The following tables sample across the price ranges for specific themed sets, based on the data available at brickset.com

Star Wars
Average price/piece: $0.143

NameYearPricePiecesMinifigsInflation adjusted pricePrice/piece
Droid Fighter (Ep I)1999$6.00620$8.15$0.13
Snowspeeder (Ep IV-VI)1999$20.002153$27.18$0.13
X-Wing Fighter (IV-VI)1999$30.002664$40.77$0.15
X-Wing Fighter (re-release oromff 1999)2002$30.002674$37.76$0.14
Mos Espa Podrace (Ep I)1999$90.008967$122.32$0.14
Naboo Starfighter2011$49.993186$49.99$0.16
Hoth Echo Base2011$89.997738$89.99$0.12
Genosian Starfighter2011$29.991553$29.99$0.19
Super Star Destroyer2011$399.9931525$399.99$0.13

 

Castle
Average price/piece: $0.183

NameYearPricePiecesMinifigsInflation adjusted pricePrice/piece
Escape from the Dragon’s Prison2011$19.991854$19.99$0.11
King’s Castle2011$99.999338$99.99$0.11
Prison Carriage Rescue2011$9.99503$9.99$0.20
Wizard2011$3.99191$3.99$0.21
Magic Shop1993$4.50471$7.05$0.15
Medieval Knights1993$6.75414$10.58$0.26
Black Knight’s Castle1992$85.0058812$137.18$0.23
Knight’s Joust1981$16.002116$39.85$0.19

 

Town/City
Average price/piece: $0.156

NameYearPricePiecesMinifigsInflation adjusted pricePrice/piece
Pet Shop2011$149.9920324$149.99$0.07
City Airport (re-release of Century Skyway)2004$90.0092812$107.88$0.12
Century Skyway1994$109.0089412$166.53$0.19
Mobile Outpost2000$30.002182$39.45$0.18
Jet Airliner1985$12.751362$26.83$0.20
Delivery Center1985$25.503054$53.66$0.18

 

Space
Average price/piece: $0.176

NameYearPricePiecesMinifigsInflation adjusted pricePrice/piece
Alien Striker2011$4.99422$4.99$0.12
Mini-Robot2008$3.49242$3.67$0.15
Alien Fossilizer1996$6.00531$8.66$0.16
Cosmic Cruiser1982$11.001151$25.81$0.22
Space Cruiser1978$10.001702$34.73$0.20
Surface Explorer1982$7.50821$17.60$0.21

 

Pricier sets overall

The sets in the following table are the most expensive sets published in a given year, every five years, until the earlier years, at which point I found less price data was available. Some years may have had more expensive sets, but this is based on the data available at brickset.com. Price/piece does not include minifigs, but the included minifig count is noted.

NameYearPricePiecesMinifigsInflation adjusted pricePrice/piece
Super Star Destroyer2011$399.9931525$399.99$0.13
Mercedes Benz Unimog U 4002011$199.9920480$199.99$0.10
Robie House2011$199.9922760$199.99$0.09
Cargo Train Deluxe2006$149.998565$168.48$0.20
Ferrari F1 Racer2006$139.9912460$157.23$0.13
Tow Truck2006$119.9918770$134.76$0.07
Rebel Blockade Runner2001$200.0017470$255.70$0.15
Darth Maul2001$150.0018680$191.77$0.10
Metroliner (rerelease)2001$149.0078211$190.50$0.24
Space Shuttle1996$158.0013680$228.01$0.17
Freight and Crane Railway1996$140.009143$202.03$0.22
Giant Truck1996$139.0017570$200.59$0.11
Metroliner1991$149.0078411$247.70$0.32
Rock Island Refuge1991$66.003817$109.72$0.29
Intercoastal Seaport1991$63.755455$105.98$0.19
Black Falcon’s Fortress1986$35.004306$72.31$0.17
Flour Mill and Shop1986$26.75732$55.26$0.76
Riding Stable1986$26.002752$53.71$0.20
Castle1981$48.0076714$119.56$0.16
Basic Building Set, 5+1981$38.003842$94.65$0.25
Public Works Center1981$30.004214$74.73$0.18
Building Set, 6+1977$40.004673$149.45$0.32
London Bus1975$49.001100$206.22$1.87
Basic Set #81973$19.007760$96.89$0.12
Tipper Truck1971$14.00480$78.27$1.63

 

Inexpensive sets

The sets in the following table are the least expensive sets published in a given year, every five years, until the earlier years, at which point I found less price data was available. Some years may have had less expensive sets, but this is based on the data available at brickset.com. Price/piece does not include minifigs, but the included minifig count is noted.

NameYearPricePiecesMinifigsInflation adjusted pricePrice/piece
Ninja Training Outpost2011$4.99451$4.99$0.11
Space Moon Buggy2011$4.99371$4.99$0.13
Speedboat2011$4.99341$4.99$0.15
Auto Pod2006$3.49560$3.92$0.07
Robo Pod2006$3.49650$4.92$0.08
Airplane Mechanic2006$3.49261$4.92$0.19
Cameraman2001$2.00211$2.56$0.12
Director’s Copter2001$3.00221$3.84$0.17
Camera Car2001$3.00201$3.84$0.19
Treasure Surprise1996$2.00221$2.89$0.13
Paravane1996$2.00161$2.89$0.18
Tidy Treasure1996$2.00211$2.89$0.14
Renegade’s Raft1991$3.25381$5.40$0.14
Mud Runner1991$3.25341$5.40$0.16
Screaming Patriot1991$6.75651$11.22$0.17
Outdoor Cafe with Bonnie Bunny1986$2.2561$4.65$0.78
Catherine Cat in her Kitchen1986$3.35281$6.92$0.25
Patricia Piglet at her Bakery1986$3.35301$6.92$0.23
Knight’s Procession1981$5.00486$12.45$0.26
Basic Building Set1981$9.501411$23.66$0.17
Basic Set1981$10.00982$24.91$0.25
Stage Coach1976$5.00951$19.90$0.21
Hospital1976$15.002027$59.69$0.30
Gravel Works1974$14.002110$64.30$0.30
Basic Set1973$16.004150$81.59$0.20
Basic Set1973$7.003490$35.70$0.10